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Early Education Paper

Good on you: Starting Early!

It is wonderful to see so many families led to homeschooling long before their children reach school age. God is obviously moving to prevent these small ones from experiencing the unnatural and often damaging environment of schools. He is also training the parents to continue their nurturing past walking and talking, to reading, calculating, and serving - and all the other aspects of education we so dearly want for our children.

Families like yours will be able to come to home education very naturally and at the child's academic pace. No traumatic first day of school! No negative peer influences. No poor teaching methods will hold the child back, or worse, undermine the good work already done by parents. (It is much more difficult to begin home educating if you have a 14 year old who has "done well at school" but yet tests out at grade 3 or 4 level when they begin! At that stage a lot of lost ground must be caught up - and probably in more areas than academics too!!)

The un-Pressured Pre-Schooler

Yes, the homeschooling mother of preschoolers need not feel any great pressure in academic areas. This is not to say that you will be "slacking off" and expecting nothing of your child. On the contrary, it will sometimes seem tempting to "leave it to the experts," particularly on the days when you aren't in controll of your patience. No, the academic requirements do not cause pressure, although keeping on displaying the Fruit of the Spirit to your children is not always easy. More on that later.

All that needs to be taught can be handled very easily whilst continuing normal life (don't imagine yourself tied to a blackboard for hours - that is unnecessary even when students are older!) As you taught them to talk, so you teach counting, manners, scripture memory, or whatever. Teaching children to talk does not normally constitute terrific pressure on the parents. Similarly all the other educational goals you may have for your littlies can be achieved quite naturally in the course of your everyday work.

Resisting the pressure to feel pressured

Unfortunately, though, we find that many parents (and we are in that group!) do feel pressure - there is a very distinct peer group pressure brought to bear on parents to conform. From about age 2, children are asked about their playgroups. (I always used to think it strange that this two hours of a child's week loomed so large in other parents' eyes - surely there are more important/ memorable/educational things happening elsewhere in the week ? And there are! More on that later!) This is all part of the general pressure to use experts - especially educators - and not trust one's own ability even in the basics! Then comes the pressure for attending kindergarten - typically a year or two before it's "due," and closely following, starting school.

Special pressure to enter school early comes on those whose children seem to be "advanced." This is poor logic, we feel. After all, the child didn't become advanced by going to school! If your child catches on quickly and seems to apply his knowledge creatively, getting the whole family re-thinking things, don't waste him on all-in-together education. Keep doing what you're doing! You are obviously doing something right.

This all goes to show that many people are quite uncreative in chatting to preschoolers (and their parents!) It also shows what a great job someone has done, persuading us all that conformity is unquestionably the only way. Just as it is socially unacceptable to answer "How are you?" negatively, children asked whether they'll be "going to kinder" next year are not permitted the negative.

(By the way, if supermarket check-out person and doctor's receptionists ask these questions, it often suffices to just say, "yes she's doing kindergarten" unless you really want to enter into yet another of those predictable, "Is that legal?" and "What about socialization?" conversations. We tend to give full explanations to those who know us, but brief answers to those merely making polite conversation. In that case it is often best to respond in the spirit of the question -be polite. Answer briefly and then ask the questioner about themselves.)

Most families succumb to an amorphous pressure to make our education look good to the government or the experts, or to make it read well on paper, or to imitate what schools do. When this type of pressure makes you jittery, consider God's original design. Do you think that Cain and Abel would have had to do all the things you feel pressured to do? Or Jesus? Do you think God would condemn you for not doing them? What will matter most on your deathbed-whether you made it look good to outsiders???

Worse than the external pressure to use educational experts, there is the internal pressure that comes from wanting to prepare our children in the best possible way for the future. These dear little ones are full of potential, and we feel that if we neglect some aspect of their education now, their future will be irretrievably marred. Also, if we teach something wrongly the set-back will be too enormous to contemplate.

So we need to say right now - there is NOTHING you can do wrong except to ignore your children. Even if you neglected to teach some major area of the curriculum for years (say geography), you could catch it up when you thought of it. Even if you teach maths the old way, and teachers don't like it, there's nothing wrong with it if the child uses it successfully. Even if you can't achieve something you aimed for in a specified time, you could change tack and take a little more time. If you are paying attention to what is happening to your child, everything you teach is a positive step forward.

The purpose of this paper is to give you, the parent of one or more beautiful little blessings not yet of official school age, enough confidence to look people in the eye when they question your kindergarten program, knowing you are doing an excellent job.

What age are we talking about?

The official compulsory school starting age in all States is 6 years. Most parents start their children earlier, but research generally shows that the longer children stay with their mothers, the better their adaptation to school and the faster their mastery of academics, as well as the more advanced their social skills.

Most children spend the year they turn 6 learning to read. Of course, some learn lots before then and may even be reading fluently by that time. Others take longer and this could still be perfectly within "normal range." The year is called 'prep' in Victoria, 'reception' in South Australia, and kindergarten in New South Wales, the USA, etc. We will call it kindergarten or 'K5' for clarity. If the children are attending a school, this is the first year of full-time (9am - 3:30 pm, 5 days a week).

The preceding year is often spent in activities that are more structured than before, but still very natural and homely. A broad foundation for academics is sought - the child's horizons are pushed back with the knowledge of himself and his routines, his household and community, and his whole world. He gets to try lots of new activities - painting, making snowballs, skipping, balancing, typewriting, hearing stories from other people, planting seeds, learning new songs, etc. This has various names, but we will call it pre-school, four-year-old kinder or K4. Those GOING to pre-school, go for approximately 12 hours per week, (four sessions times three hours each week). Pre-school is presently not a part of the Education Departments but the Health Departments of each state (other names may include Child Development, Child and Maternity Services etc., indicating a focus away from education). This distinction is currently being challenged by various teacher unions, with the aim of treating all kinders as educational establishments.

Before that, some people send their children to 3-year-old kinder or K3, or to a good play group or other structured classes, like Gymbaroo. K3 usually goes for two sessions per week, two to three hours each. Anything longer is usually classed as day-care or occasional care. We do not recommend day-care in normal circumstances.

Early education is the general term we will use for all the teaching you have done/will do from your child's age 3 to about 8, but with special emphasis on the 4-6 years.

The choices for 4 year olds

There are many possible ways you could approach the K4 year. One is to send the child to a local kindergarten, if you are sure the directress is an excellent one. Another is to buy an all-inclusive K4 programme package and follow it religiously. The third is to organize your own programme.

Of course this paper is heavily biased toward the third option, which we see as more fun, better and much, much cheaper than the others. However you must work out your own particular bent, and not be swayed by ours no matter how strongly it is put. Not all families have the same needs or aspirations, so PLEASE feel free to differ from us!

Going Out To Kindergarten

If you are considering using the local kindergarten to take a load off yourself, consider these points.

In actual fact it is much easier to 'do kindergarten' at home than to cope with even one or two of the above. If you get a poorly supervised centre all of the above and more may be happening and you may not even realize. Even great preschools cannot compete with your loving, patient guidance through real life - especially the you that is unpressurized by pre-school drop offs and pick-ups.

Having said all that, I also need to say that kindergartens can be fantastic, a wonderful addition to what you are doing at home. There are ways to minimize the negatives to the point of satisfaction, if you have a good directress. Actually, we are not as anti-K4 as it may seem from the above points. Just be aware and make sure negatives don't sneak up on you.

Ready-To-Go Packages

There are some beautiful preschools/prep programs around and countless individual items of educational value - you could actually spend thousands of dollars very easily. We have yet to find any locally produced Christian equivalents to US programs, but lovely sets like 'Play and Talk' cost around $A1200, others like Ann Ward's "Learning At Home" cost around $A90 because it uses the library and a few basic references as resources. Any program will take time for preparation, finding or making aids, collecting resources, etc as well as lesson time.

The advertisements look very tempting, but when you really get down to what each component does, I think you would find that you didn't really need it and you already have or can get the equivalent. Also, you will find that bits and pieces don't always suit. Even apart from seasonal differences (e.g. American literature often matches Easter with spring and Christmas with snow), and other southern hemisphere inappropriateness, many users have told us that they find it frustrating to work to someone else's schedule. One system may allow a whole week to learn a colour, number or letter, relating all other activities to it. If the child learned it on the first day, what should you do? Skip lots of your expensive program, or plod on, making the program seem ponderous and cumbersome to your child?

Read catalogues for lots of reviews of specific items, but we could say that $A100 would go a lo-o-o-ng way and you need really spend almost nothing. It's your decision! If you yearn for a fully laid-out program, you need to consider why.

We generally find that two kinds of people buy preschool programmes - those whose youngest approaches 5 and whose oldest are studying algebra and physics and may need a little extra time, and those whose oldest is approaching school age and who are beginning to feel the need to show that they are teaching.

The latter needs to be faced as peer pressure (on the parents) to comply. All that is required is a little confidence that quality teaching can occur when any caring parent is involved with their children. The parent with older students needs to be careful that expensive "baby-sitting" books are not substituting for mothering! If you want the programs, be sure you know why. Whilst I make these points strongly, I trust that they represent extremes to which homeschooling mothers will not want to go.

So you see how strongly we have tried to caution you against over-spending or over committing your time with outside programmes or packaged kits. Even though they are good and useful, there is better available. Quality education can actually happen without them. If a great programme appeals to you, feel free to buy it, but please don't feel that you must search one out and spend lots of money. You may find, as countless others have, that you could have done it all yourself, that you paid for lots that you would never do, and that the kit is hard to sell to others.

We find that it works quite well to try the inexpensive first. Then, if you think it "hasn't worked," at least you'll know a lot more abou what you want in a programme. We call it, "make cheap mistakes first."

But whatever you choose, enjoy your children! The curriculum you use, whether your own unique combination or someone else's, it is a tool in your hand. Be sure it takes you closer to your goals.

Thinking about Designing A Programme?

The nice thing about the early years is that there is no legal requirement for you to prove anything to anyone. You are blissfully free to cover the things important to you, leave out those aspects unacceptable to you, and generally apprentice your child to your lifestyle. (There's plenty of time for feeling accountable later on - just enjoy these are free years in the spirit God gave them.)

So basically we suggest you don't write out an impressive and detailed programme. Any notes you make will be for your eyes only, and you are too busy to impress yourself. Instead, think hard about your long-term goals for your child. What are the truly important things you want for his future? For eternity, and for adult life including careers and attitudes. (Fathers are responsible under God for these decisions and their development over time. If you are a mother reading this, ask your husband for input. Do not proceed without a sense of direction from him.)

When you know the goals, the rest does seem easier. Each will suggest some short-term objectives and activities. List those that occur to you, and then look through other lists highlighting any that fit with your goals.

Write down only what you wish. Have accessible your list of ideas for those days when nothing obvious presents itself. Occasionally add to this list when ideas come thick and fast.

For the rest, if you follow the guidelines below your child will have a superior preschool education, whether you write a beautifully presented programme complete with goals and objectives, or not. Just as you will not neglect to feed his body, even though you don't write menu plans for months ahead, you will not neglect his mind and whole self, even if you have no "curriculum." There's so much about your world that he doesn't know yet, but that you take for granted. It is not very difficult to teach him these things.

Your Qualifications

Never feel that, because you didn't do so well at school, or haven't had any special training, can't drive, sing, don't have a computer or whatever, that you are not qualified to teach your child. Scripturally, the fact that you are his parents makes you qualified. Legally, you don't even need that. Even in many day-care centres, the 'manager' is a mothercraft nurse (one years' training) but she is rarely present. The girls who do most of the centre's work are young, inexperienced and untrained. At least you have a few years experience with life in general, raising children, running a household etc.

Legally, Scripturally, and in every other way, you are perfectly qualified. If you feel inadequate, remember that even the most highly qualified educational experts feel their responsibility keenly when faced with their own children's education. This is a feeling common to all with responsibility-a feeling, not a fact. When a sense of inadequacy threatens your security, get help. There is only One Source of true Wisdom, Strength and Patience! Make sure you use your daily quiet-time for In-Service Training!

Best Private Schooling

Homeschooling, we believe, is a wonderful form of education. In no fully equipped classroom can any child get more than a few minutes personal tuition - yet one-to-one or one-to-few is repeatedly proven the best way to impart knowledge. You can provide it - schools and kindergarten can't. There can be no 'slipping through the system' - year after year, no-one noticing the quiet ones who are learning nothing. No excuses for work not completed or not learnt - you know whether unexpected family happenings caused scholarly tardiness. There is no problem of conflict between the philosophies of home or school either. In short, there is little opportunity for pretence, or undermining - so the student soon learns to study effectively.

All the equipment that schools (and kindergartens) boast of and is apparently required for quality education, can be replicated, borrowed (e.g. from toy libraries), substituted for at home - or ignored. Equipment-based learning is not as essential as you may think.

Computers are a prime example. Many families who do not own home computers worry about this 'lack,' but the countries most advanced in computer technology (e.g. Japan, Germany) do not use computers in schools at all. After all, computers are changing constantly. Anything learned now may be totally outdated in 10 years.

Sadly, computers used in schools mainly play highly graphic games with minimal educational value. Even top educational computer programs can waste a lot of time - imagine for example a maths drill. The screen flashes the problem: 3+4. The child must think up the answer, find the key, press it and then refocus on the screen. An oral drill is much more efficient - in 5 minutes you could do as much as a half hour session on the computer. Add to that the as-yet-unknown dangers of screen radiation, eye strain, and RSI, and try not to feel pressurized to conform in this area also. The only learning which would be of great benefit towards future computer use is touch typing.

Think about equipment your child "might miss out on" if they don't "go to kindergarten." Most you will either already have access to, or can substitute (ask about any you still have difficulty with!)

Your Finances

If you are providing such superior education, won't it cost a lot? The answer in brief is, it can cost whatever you want it to. What makes superior education is your involvement, not your money. Of course, you should never enter homeschooling purely for financial reasons. The only reason that will carry you through is the belief that God requires it of you. However, you will probably find financial benefits as well.

If finances are limited, there are many ways to control your spending. Most involve a little work on your part - either hunting out bits and pieces, writing out your own exercises or whatever, keeping your eye out for 'freebies' and specials. You will not be able to do it at no cost, but apart from that, the range is very broad - you could spend tens or thousands - but it's up to you, not someone else.

Bear in mind that there is no better investment than your family's future. Your physical future (home, clothes, equipment) must be catered for, but these things can rust, perish or be stolen. Your Spiritual future is essential and also freely available (do not neglect it). Your mental/ emotional future can be invested in, in the form of educational books and materials, seminars, etc. True learning cannot be taken away, so do not skimp on it by avoiding all spending. Consider it an investment and invest wisely. However there is nothing in early education that needs to cost much. Read on!

The Early Education Lifestyle

Young children (under 8-10 or so) are delightful inspirations and smile-raisers. Their sayings can be so amusing, whilst giving us insights into how learning takes place. Their genuine efforts to live in an adult world are heart- warming. How much we take for granted as we get older! But they remind us, by having to learn every step.

Children develop long-term memory only gradually through the primary years. They can memorize very readily, but anything you forget to ask them for a week or two will be lost. Do you find this a depressing thought? You shouldn't. It actually frees you to teach only self-revising facts, and to leave the seven times table and all the European capitals till later. Instead, concentrate on letters and numbers, manners, household chores and routines, physical skills, hygiene, Scripture, life-long habits, attitudes, skills. Apprentice your child to what you do. Remember they will learn through actions and hearing much more than with book-work/close up reading or writing.

The Three Essentials

There are three things parents need to do for preschoolers:

  1. Read to them. Not just picture story books: the Bible, historical stories, mini-science, literature etc. at whatever level they can cope with or just a little higher than you think. You'll often be surprised that they do understand things you thought beyond them. Reading broadens their horizons and opens up the world to them, allowing new input and discussion, all in the safety of Mum's lap. Allow such diversions, discuss the picture, draw their attention to details, enjoy the book together, then stop whenever either of you have had enough.
  2. Work with them. Allow them to come under your wing and be apprenticed to you in your work. Teach them to dress, make their beds, dry dishes, vacuum, polish floors, rake, wash cars, weed the garden etc.

    Give clear instructions and encourage the child to complete a small section of a task, i.e. to really be a help, not just cute. This section, of course, gradually increases until a large chore can be reliably completed by the child.

    This teaches a child to listen, to obey instructions, to pay attention to detail, to extend their concentration span, and to be a contributor in life, not merely a consumer. They love it - God put a natural desire to help in these blessings - why should we refuse them?

    Obedience is of course the only scriptural instruction to children. This greatly simplifies life for the child - and his parents. There is no need to enter into theological wrestlings on the finer points of the Law and its New Testament applications. God planned that they should be apprenticed to us, to reflect back to us our life-view so that we may see it and adjust our own un-Godly traits before we are allowed to lead in wider society.

    Additionally, teaching children household tasks shows the parent how that particular child learns. How many instructions can they comprehend and obey at once? Did they understand better from watching you or when you verbally instructed in each detail of the task? Did they need to repeat back instructions - either voluntarily or because you asked them? Did they only seem to "click" when they tried it themselves? How developed are their various muscle-controlled mechanisms? How long could they continue taking in what you said? Were there attitude problems you had to deal with? All these things are imperative for when you begin academics.

  3. Talk to your child. Everyone thinks they do this (in fact everyone thinks they do all three of the essentials) but have you ever listened to how much talk is higher-level than instruction-giving and one-word answers? Have you ever noted how often you smile, look at and listen to them? Do you talk about what you're doing and why, also what you're thinking about, what God is teaching you, what you're observing around you? Teaching to the children makes them observant and aware, verbally capable, thoughtful and less selfish, and extends their vocabulary and thinking skills.

Expensive programs are only good inasmuch as they force the instructor to do these three essentials. Child-centered activities like playdough, puzzles, and gymbaroo are fun additions but can be added as possible or largely ignored without long-term damage. However a child with all the programs in the world, but little or none of the "three essentials" will be disadvantaged.

If you remember just these three things - read to them, work with them, talk to them, you will be providing a superior Kindergarten education.

Help! I feel like I'm not teaching enough!

The following collection is merely to encourage you and to build up your confidence further in what you are doing. We hope it will help you see that you are already covering many academic skills in the course of sharing your everyday life with the children - or give you ideas for extending without pressure.

You may like to see this as a list of topics to talk about in case you ever wonder what to introduce next. Again, there should be no pressure on you or your child. These need not all be covered by age 6 - it's just a list of ideas. None require the knowledge of a university professor - just everyday natural sharing.

First tastes of academics: brief, patient, fun

We pray that this paper is helping you to take the pressure off yourself, to enjoy your young family, to feel in control under God for them, so that you can emphasize the important (joy in an unselfish life) rather than the popular (activities), and to proceed with confidence in the Giver of Wisdom, Who promises that the child brought up in the way he should go will continue in it.

This checklist has been compiled by contributors including kinder teachers and parents, plus course outline documents. We have divided them by traditional subject area, in case this will help you to grasp the educational benefit of such activities. Also some may need to "write them up" as part of their educational records.

This is a list of ideas for when you run out of your own - not all must be covered in K4 & K5, so don't fuss if your youngster can't do some. There's plenty of time, as long as the most important ones are covered - they are character improvements rather than academic knowledge anyway. There would be no harm in leaving teaching these until later, if you are doing the three essentials.

Even if you do teach them all (!), the child may forget them. But attitudes will be remembered. Were you patient and loving? Don't be tempted to put pressure on the child - if they're not ready today, they may be tomorrow. Leave off and try again later. Readiness will arrive suddenly one day and then they'll remember. But the pain of your prideful pushing will be remembered long after what caused it are forgotten. Instead keep your attitude cheerful, patient and diligent, and encourage the children in the same direction, regardless of what is covered.

BIBLE: the most important starting point, end goal and foundation for all learning. Children should see it being read and respected; hear it read and sung often and very soon begin to read it for themselves. All of life relates to it. It is either faith or sin, good or bad, Godly or un-Godly. Children can learn memory verses (if learning the reference is causing problems, try learning whole slabs a little at a time, rather than short verses (e.g. Ps 1, Ps 23, James, parts of Genesis). They should memorize the names of all the books of the Bible as soon as possible (go as slowly as necessary) since it is so useful. Remember that memorization is easy for children under the age of seven or eight, but revision must be regular to retain the facts. Later, memorization is more laborious while retention improves. Utilize these "sponge-brain" years to soak up Scripture and other useful facts! Understanding is not absolutely necessary and can be added later; it only clutters the mind for now!

Singing Scripture is marvellous and of course prayer is always a regular part of Christian life: three graces per day, prayer around the meal table and before bed; prayers of repentance and forgiveness at times of discipline and incidental prayers when there is hurt, disappointment or elation, all help a child to relate his everyday life to God. God becomes real and close and caring.

LANGUAGE ARTS: The year the child turns six is traditionally when reading/phonics is introduced, though this may have been toyed with earlier. Do not fear this step! It is easier to teach a child to read than to toilet train. It only takes 20 minutes per day or less of intensive time and all learning will be easier after that (see "Intensive Phonics in Australia"). The main thing to remember is that anger and impatience achieve no good thing. Keep your cool, keep sessions brief and cheerful, and enjoy those blessings as they gradually gain skill.

In K5 the child should be learning to read unless this is already covered, or there are difficulties which are delaying matters. What methods are there?

We recommend a good Intensive Phonic method, which focuses on the letter combinations which make a limited range of sounds (phonograms). Students must memorize a list of sounds for each phonogram (e.g. b has only one sound, c has two; 'c' and 's'; ch has three: ch (chain), k (school), or sh (chef), etc. Any system using whole-word flashcards or pictures will distract from this kind of method. Buy "Intensive Phonics In Australia" or the LEM Phonics programme for more details.

Other language skills: Listening (to poems, books, music, sermons etc) including listening in larger group, (politeness, silence) and oral word games; telling stories using complete sentences; many reading readiness activities (try "Golden Step Ahead" books available at most chain stores, newsagents etc.) Read to your children often - as long as time permits. "You may have tangible wealth untold: Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold. Richer than I you can never be - I had a mother who read to me." Stricklan Gillilan.

MATHS: recite numbers from 1 to 20, then 100, then more - one-to-one correspondence - count, point to items in turn - recognise the numerals and "read" them - ordinal/cardinal relationship eg "the third' means three from the left - left and right (teach these as early as possible and keep using the terms often) - North, South, East and West are also useful but not imperative at this age - shapes - square, circle, rectangle, triangle and later more plus solids: sphere, cone, cube, pyramid etc - tell the time: analogue (clock face) and digital - days of the week, months, use of calendar patterns eg church on Sunday, bins on Friday - money - recognise coins and later count out money - puzzles of various kinds including jigsaws - sequences - the order of events -weighing, measuring, volume; pouring, table setting, packing; sorting into sets (eg washing) - later you can add simple combinations - get two ordinary dice and let them add up the uppermost numbers - position: in, on, under, around.

SCIENCE: Young children are interested in everything, so be flexible enough to stop and help them enjoy and learn from what they see - weather and seasons, plants and animals including their various cycles and habits, the sun, earth, moon and stars (moon phases can be seen in daytime), classification of living things: plants - ferns, fungi, moss, herbs, flowers, trees etc; animals - mammals, fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects (don't be afraid to use proper names); farm, zoo, jungle animals, care of pets, indoor plants and vegetable or flower gardens; you may even try some simple chemistry experiments.

Health: personal hygiene; nutritious eating habits; table manners; good clothing habits; care of teeth, eyes, skin; safety in public places; correct speech; courtesy; road code; dress skills - left & right, fasteners, colours; active skills with balls, playground and gym equipment, somersaults, targets, trampolines, swings etc.

SOCIAL STUDIES (a horribly humanistic term - but don't let your teaching be man-centred - teach for God's glory).

History: Start with the child's history and family history - how mum and dad met, how God supplied the house, the early lives of their grandparents, etc and work back to local, national and world history; Biblical history and missions through the ages. Give a perspective of 6,000 years of God's workings with man-eg. only in the last 130 years has "compulsory schooling" been in vogue - a mere passing fashion? Only in the last 30 have there been church creches (as distinct from "cry rooms") and only the last 10, day care. Children soon see the patterns.

Geography: Each child should know the layout of their room/house (this is a good introduction to maps), the name of his street, then his full name, address and phone number; he should know the way to church, shops etc - and be able to direct you as well as recognise it on a map. Other place names and street names should be added and finally go further afield to national landmarks.

Community Awareness: Role of family members; services (police, shopkeeper, pastor/elder, fireman, doctor etc). Whenever you have an appointment or a bill to pay, talk about it, let them watch, find the cheque book etc as appropriate.

Some understanding of factories, farms, post offices, warehouses etc - where things come from; the meaning of Christmas, Easter, national holidays, other special events.

ART & CRAFT: Drawing, colouring, making things, modelling with various substances (clay, playdough etc), construction toys like Duplo®, painting - expose them to as many different craft media as possible.

Do not fall for the humanistic line that "there is no right or wrong" in art. Teach them to draw straight lines, round circles, people with all limbs, houses with three dimensions; to colour accurately etc, etc. Creativity only comes when we have some basic tools through which it can flow.


Disciple them to everything you do: teach them enough to truly be a help when you cook, clean, visit, tend the baby, organise meetings, garden, shop, service etc. If it's not lightening your load after the fourth time they "help" you with it, check out your patience level! They may not manage perfectly but if they are achieving something thank and encourage them. Patience now pays dividends later!

Basically, there is so much good to expose these interested children to - try to be flexible enough to stop and watch that electricity linesman at work, that car transporter unloading, or whatever crosses your path. The only real patterns of Kinder-years (after learning to read is covered) are: relate your faith to everything, provide a broad base for later learning, read, read, read and talk about everything. There are many inexpensive places to get help - libraries of course, and a toy library, if you have access to one, are invaluable. Keep an eye on those garage sales and op-shops - many excellent books and games/toys can be obtained very cheaply. The older ones, though less colourful, tend to have a better life-view and a more constructive emphasis.

If you can join, or form, a good playgroup, either locally or with other homeschoolers, much of the work is made easier, though it is just as good to do it all at home. Playgroup has the advantage of making sure you do cover a certain area each week, and clean-up time is reduced (it may take just as long to set up and clean up painting for 3 children as for 20).

Though this all looks like a lot when you read it through in one sitting, I don't think you'll find it difficult to cross off most as "already covered' and fit the rest somewhere into the days and months to come. You'll be surprised how much you do cover without even thinking about it - if you pray, read and talk to your children often.

"Ordinary" home life as Education

Situation: You have four young children aged 6, 4, 2 and 0. There is a lot of mothering and housework to do - and not much time for academics. You cannot and don't wish to spend four hours daily at bookwork. Are you providing "regular and efficient' instruction for the six-year-old?

OR You have a week when you desperately need to catch up on things in the house - it has all gotten out of hand and you feel you can't go on with academics - you need everyone to help. Do you write it down as a holiday or are you providing valid educational opportunities?

OR The children have produced some very shoddy work and you want them to repeat it and correct both their attitude and the end result. You know it will take another large slab of time and you wonder whether it is "okay" to take them away from their other lessons.

Considerations: Firstly, don't forget that homeschooling is not just "school in your home." Just as learning does not happen only in schools, learning is not only out of books. While the children are young, it is not necessary to use a lot of expensive book-based curricula.

For example, Prep (K5) grade maths consists only of counting, one-to-one correspondence, comparison etc. These can be done very simply in practical ways at home. In fact, if you are talking to your children during the day (not leaving them with babysitters or in front of TVs and children's activities), I am sure you are covering all their maths without even thinking about it. Plus, all their social studies, science and Bible. The only thing you need to think about is phonics and that can be covered in twenty minutes of intensive time plus a little reinforcing throughout the day.

Even when they are older, learning is not just from books, but from real life. You didn't think children in schools were studying books all day, did you? They watch TV, do hands-on learning activities, colour in pictures, clean out cupboards, run messages, have guests or go on excursions, play computer games, play outside, stand in corridors or tidy playgrounds for discipline, chat together, wait for quiet, etc. etc.

But we don't have to compare ourselves with schools - we have to be able to prove "regular and efficient instruction." So the point is not what schools do but whether we can explain what we are doing in educational terms.

If you define education as the total training for life (as most theorists do now) and eternity (which most educational theorists don't!), what seems to be the most important in your curriculum? Is it more important to fill in pages of maths books - or to know maths facts? How are these best learned? Is it more important to do this lesson (History, English or whatever) today - or will it matter more in eternity that the children learned to be slovenly in work habits and only cater to appearances - because you ignored their inadequately completed morning routines day after day?

The law outlines the minimum which must be covered in our curriculum. However, we can add some essential subjects to the legal list: character training, fear of God, workmanship, respect (Rom, Gal, Eph, James etc). I am not suggesting that you neglect English, Maths and other studies. I simply mean, don't be controlled by your curriculum or the adult peer pressure (even from Education Department inspectors). Take charge, and teach what needs learning. When you stand before the Lord at the end of it all, you will not regret pages of work delayed or skipped. You WILL think of all the times you let slip an opportunity to build essential character traits into your children's lives. And even legally, you can well make a case for positive teaching that is not book-oriented. Many parents feel threatened by legal requirements, but have never actually checked out what the law exactly says. We are called to obey the Law of God, not what we merely think the law requires.

If your children are all little, do not place too much extra pressure on your day with book work. Be aware of the academic input you naturally provide.

If you need a spring-cleaning week, do it. Write down the day's work variously as health (hygiene), home economics, character (when they have to redo something they should have done already), workmanship (when they are learning to attend to details), training in concentration (learning to persevere and follow through on the whole job), music (put some on or sing while you work), language arts (discuss something, practice listening skills or obeying instructions), maths (completing a sequential task, rearranging cupboards by category and tidily, "creating order out of chaos"). This also applies but in smaller time slabs, for the third situation above.

I have listed below some common household activities and what academic skills they teach. This may help you understand the richness of what you are already providing; or maybe, what you're missing out on if you do too much "bookwork."


Any sorting activity eg sorting the wash into light/dark, delicates, stains requiring special action or sorting the clean wash, especially comparing sizes: this singlet is big (dad's), tiny (baby's) and these in between or putting away dishes, loading dishwashers, etc - sorting cutlery into a drawer, putting "like" bowls together, separating un-dishwasher-proof dishes, putting things away correctly (fine discrimination needed to compare properly eg the special cutlery/crockery from the everyday). However you organize your cupboards - eg pots and pans, plastics, casseroles - is a 'category' for your child to understand and apply.

These are all mathematical activities and until they come very naturally you can include them as part of the maths programme. WRITE: (Date). Maths - categorizing household objects - sorting and classifying - comparison and contrast - classification work. These can be further broken up: - classification by size, colour, material, pattern, etc. to cover several "lessons."

These maths activities are generally covered in Grade 1-2, and in growing complexity later. A teaching tool called Attribute Blocks is used right through primary to help with these skills. They are blocks with several attributes (properties): 3 different colours, two different thicknesses, several different shapes. The child's job is to place them in sets which overlap (ask me if you don't understand this). The blocks are expensive and single-purpose. Just think - you can supply the activity without any expense (and with benefit to the household)!

Classifying and sorting are not only Grade 1 activities. They just get more complicated higher up - more attributes to sort for at once.

So at Grade 3-4 level you might expect the children to sort by 2 attributes (eg. colour and size or colour and delicateness for dirty washing - even though this is not a light colour we wash it first so it goes through a "gentle" cycle).

At Grade 5 or 6 they sort by three attributes eg. it's a bowl, it's bigger than those, it's made of glass - so it goes here

They should of course do arithmetic as well and as much as possible, but this sort of activity is valid maths teaching, especially when they find it challenging and need to really think about the categories they are using.

Logic - many games the children play voluntarily involve logic and reasoning; also of course counting, scoring, predicting etc are all maths activities they may gain from games (and be written up as such when you need extras).

Sequencing: that is, what comes before what. They are learning sequencing when they are getting their morning or other routines right eg toilet then wash then dress then chores is a sequence that must be done in correct order. Arranging things in numeric order eg stacking cup toys is sequencing. Most cooking, cleaning and other chores involved sequencing and while the correct order is being learned, it can be included in the maths program.


Any alphabetizing, eg looking up a dictionary, encyclopaedia or reference. Filing papers alphabetically. Arranging anything in alphabetical order. Looking up a phone book.

Any reading activity. Try to offer various styles and types - not only story books. Get nonfiction (history, science, geography, biography, craft, sport, riddles, etc.) from the library and have a wide reading segment.

Any reporting (orally or otherwise) on books read, things seen or other topics. Try to encourage interesting words and sentences, and do away with um's and ah's, (but don't make such an issue of it as to kill enthusiasm). Telling Daddy or Grandma about what they've been doing, is "giving a report."

Letter writing: don't expect too much - dictating to you or just one line and a picture is fine.

Any writing done voluntarily

Play acting and role playing, voice changes for game playing, accents, imitations.

Literature studies - the book you read as a family, any discussion and resultant activities or conversations, even in passing.

Colouring pictures is great for pencil-control - "penmanship." Encourage growing quality.

Listening activities - cassettes, listening to parent's instructions, family Bible reading and other reading. Listening for specific sounds eg the telephone, the baby crying, daddy returning.

Following instructions - a growing number at once as the child grows eg Grade 1: 2-3 instructions, Grade 2: four details in sequence, Grade 4-5; more, as child copes, eg: "Open the door, let in the cat, close the door and get that book." As they grow, include decisions: "if the time is after 2pm, get the science book" with a growing number of instructions.

Increasing concentration span - any activity which they must stick at - if they have to redo any work to correct an error or omission.

Learning to speak politely/correctly, could go under grammar or syntax (eg use of "please" and the person's name; use of questions in a cheerful voice rather than rude instructions such as "Give me that!").

With these major areas covered, the pressure is off. Now - have any of the following discussions or activities arisen, so that you could say you've "done them"?


Health: Character Training - any activity which has been learned but is still not being done because of wilfulness, boredom etc can be classed a character training opportunity. Manners is part of health - all those reminders about polite behaviour are health lessons.

Respect - Listen to mum and dad, answer, and obey - cheerfully. Treat brothers and sisters with respect and patience.

Personal Hygiene
Cleanliness - pet cages, housework, room care, personal
Grooming - care of clothing etc.
Nutrition - good food habits
Physical Education - including aerobic activities like running, cycling, vacuuming, washing windows, raking, hauling: anything that raises heart rate and perspiration.

Singing (in groups, families or alone).
Learning a new song.
Listening to classical music - over lunch or craft time is fine. (Try to talk about it too and encourage recognition of tunes, instruments etc). Variety of music cassettes (from library or own collection).

If you don't have energy for lots, try drawing lessons, colouring, playdough modelling, construction (eg Lego), fine work of any sort, cookery where decorating is included, and of course include any Sunday School or other outside craft. Many girls and some boys will do craft activities without any prodding or teaching. Build on this when you can.

Songs about countries and places
Library cassettes from other places, eg about an Indian boy, etc.
Missionary discussion/prayer/testimony.
Maps on walls, find places, discuss any aspect, or just look at the map together
Locating home on a map, drawing a plan (map) of anything (even imaginary)
Instructions: North/South/East/West
Capital cities, oral drills/quizzes/games
Look at aerial photographs of familiar places (as found in some real estate advertisements)

Any book/story/sermon etc involving another time or place; Bible stories
Family History - looking at the family photos - what they were like as babies, how mummy and daddy met, the stories of God's provisions for your family, what was different when you were children etc. Remember to point out what has not changed.

Anything about how things work, what's inside, what they are made of - eg bubbles, babies, shells, weather, sand, machines, sponges, stars, rings in wood, trees, cooking (chemical changes), flowers, animals, water. Anything that describes or draws attention to nature or materials, changes or patterns. Nature studies - take a walk sometimes, spot nests, turn over rocks, etc.

Social Studies
Community awareness - what police, farmers, shopkeepers, mothers, bankers, schools and pastors etc do. Where shops get things. When roads are busiest etc. What daddy may be doing right now. People who need prayer.

Maybe one or more of those things came up, and you hadn't thought about how educational they were. Maybe they've been covered on other days, but not been recorded yet.

When you need to, have a "Plan B" day when you record this kind of activity, instead of the usual. If you still have a day when you don't know what to write, feel free to ask for help! Or maybe this list will help - I'm sure you'll have done heaps of quality teaching.

However, if you are constantly feeling pressured, try to work out exactly why and take time to solve problems, rather than merely "fighting bushfires." You may need to discuss this with someone.

As the children grow in ability to obey complex instructions, overcome laziness and poor work attitudes, cheerfully complete routines etc, it should become easier to set academic tasks and expect to see them carried through. Hopefully the feeling of pressure, caused by the needs of a young family, will therefore ease up as the older children become more responsible. It won't last forever! Don't forget to enjoy these years too - they'll be gone all too soon and new pressures (Year 12!) will come.

"Ordinary" Church life as Education

By my title I'm not suggesting that you should take up church attendance merely for the free educational experiences your children will gain; indeed I assume that readers already fellowship regularly as a family. My goal here is to remind you of the richness of life in the church, even to the extent of providing quite high level English and Maths training for young (and not so young) children. The way to enjoy church is to participate, rather than merely waiting for it to finish.

The Sermon

First there is the discipline of sitting quietly and politely listening to a speaker. If you've ever tried to speak to a noisy fidgety bunch you'll know how it puts you off. You don't seem able to give your message its full punch and you know your listeners are unable to concentrate and give the message their full consideration. This is rudeness to the speaker who is expending effort telling you something important, rude to the other listeners who have invested precious time to attend, and, in the case of church, shows utter disrespect for the Lord whom we came to worship. Any person, adult or child, who has learned to give a speaker his attention, and (later) to weigh up what he says, shows that he has respect for others, a teachable soul, and a basic achievement of self-control.

Anyone having difficulty concentrating long enough, can aid their attention by increasing the parts of the brain in use, eg by taking notes (utilizes the arm and fingers, and the eyes, as well as just the ears. Very young children can be helped to make a mark on a paper when they hear certain key words which you've asked them to listen for. As they child grows and is able to write, they can write their own key words (any at all that they hear is fine). Later they can write phrases and eventually listen for key points to note down. Remember, if they get bored, it is because they are not listening - merely waiting for it to finish.

Merely keeping the children quiet and waiting for the end may be a necessary mid step. Sometimes it is achieved with food, drinks, books, toys and puzzles (all carefully examined beforehand for noisiness - cellophane wrappers and crackly supermarket bags are very distracting). Toddlers do go through an awkward stage when sitting still is very difficult to enforce and seems to take one parent's total attention. A cloth bag containing a few choice quiet activities may help. However these will have to be eliminated later.

If this is a concern it is very good to practise at home. In our house, the little ones come to devotions with their bath, night nappy, tooth brushing etc all done. Daddy or others read clearly from the Bible whilst the little ones sit on laps quietly. Whispered reminders to keep still are allowable when first learning, but if there is too much disturbance (as judged by Daddy) they are "too little" for devotions and are lovingly put to bed. Their natural desire to be "big" helps them to try harder tomorrow. We try not to make this look like a punishment but that staying up for devotions, and maybe stories or games after that, is a privilege and a joyful part of adult life.

If in this way you may have taught your toddler to sit still for 15 or 20 minutes, then you should be able to expect that amount of concentration in the sermon, and you may decide to bring out the entertainers after that. Some take their children out of the service at that point to prevent fatigue and to reward verbally or other ways. Others say that they can avoid the whole difficult stage by teaching babies to sleep through church. They bring in a sheepskin and put the child down, and every time the little head pops up, gently but firmly putting it down again. This goes on until the child (maybe 18 or 27 months old) is able to sit up on a chair for the necessary time span, as practised at home. Of course as always one must distinguish CAN'T from WON'T and open rebellion is to be treated differently from childish inability. The latter is gradually overcome by lots of talk of being big enough to sit quietly, reminders on the way to church of what is expected, smiles and touches during church to reward good behaviour, expressing pride in their achievement of the next step towards the goal afterwards and memory refreshment during the week. Anger and impatience do not achieve the objective!

Children who attend school have to learn to sit still and pay attention but homeschoolers may miss out on this important skill. However, long before the age when school children have mastered it, we can be teaching the much higher and more worthwhile skill of LISTENING to the speaker, not just sitting through the session, by the note-taking skills mentioned above.

The Music

Other skills church-attending children can gain include a variety of musical experiences. They can participate in group singing, learning to listen for the cue to begin, and to sing WITH the congregation, in time and at the same speed. They learn about written music, (the chorus will only be written once but is sung at the end of each verse) and umpteen other conventions we adults take for granted.

Finding the hymn in the book takes quite complicated mathematical understanding (for a 6 year old). They need to understand place value and use estimation skills - eg the hymn is 286, and she opens randomly at 402. Should she turn left or right? Next she turns up 268. Is that right and if not which way now, and by how much? If you like, the hymn book is a terrific real-life manipulative for teaching advanced number concepts. But actually like all good early education, it is the encouragement to participate in real life that constitutes the "educational" benefit.

The singing part of church is one of the easiest to participate in and enjoy (for all ages). To enhance enjoyment and participation, sing the hymns at home too, and memorize the words together. This can be helped by having (or making) a cassette of them, to play to the children during quiet play. Children do not generally need special children's music (mine find such styles annoyingly frivolous and unsettling after a short time, but return again and again to the hymns, worship, and classical collections).

Prayer and Worship

Out of respect for God and fellow worshippers, prayer time is to be especially observed as important by all ages. Children may, in some churches, contribute prayer points and maybe even pray aloud if they can speak clearly enough to be heard. But when others are praying they can sit still with head bowed, eyes shut, hands folded, and mind on the prayers. Of course this also takes training and must be practised at home.

A strong argument for the existence of God, in my eyes, is the young age at which children can understand and take part in worship. They know they are relating to a real but invisible person, and seem to relate effectively, without pretention, pride, false humility, ulterior motives, doubt, or any of the other human failings that beset others. If God were a concept that they had to be taught, how could this be? This is not to say that growing up and learning more are negative things, but that God is gracious in revealing Himself to us and parents can trust God to help their children in their knowledge and worship of Him.

Fellowship Time

After the service is a great time to enhance "social skills" if you want the educational term - or just loving the Body of Christ if you prefer. Children should be learning people's names and relationships and other details about their situations. This can be enhanced by praying for the others at church in your family devotions. Making prayer cards with photographs and suggested prayer points for each family/group is especially effective. We found we also had to encourage the children to speak with people, and maybe help them think of things to say. Children need to learn to THINK about others and this does not come naturally.

Though it is not always easy to avoid, unsupervised play with other youngsters outside while the adults chat inside, is definitely not ideal. It is better that children learn to help about the physical tasks of the church, like serving morning tea, packing up hymn books and Bibles, washing dishes, rearranging chairs, or whatever, according to ability.

Sometimes an older child or adult may watch them as they play outdoors. Have you taught them to respect those you delegate such authority to, so that if the child is asked to help, or to stop something dangerous or hurtful, they would obey? Have you made clear what is acceptable behaviour in these circumstances? You need to make it clear that unacceptable behaviour will mean loss of the privilege of outdoor play.

All these are terrific learning experiences for your young one and available to her by accompanying you to church. You can maximise the benefits by practicing at home and by encouraging participation: sing when it's time to sing, pray in prayer time, worship etc, take notes in the sermon. By breaking it up, you teach the child participation. Don't act as if the service is irrelevant to the child.

The Best Way to Combat Boredom

One of our most frequently asked questions concerns ways to teach whilst surrounded by attention-seeking younger children, and/or suitable courses for these preschoolers. What I'm about to say has been said before and I'm sorry if it bores those who remember it. Maybe it is so opposed to what the world teaches, that we need to hear it over and over before it sinks in.

Attention-seekers simply haven't enough to do. They need responsibility.

Entertaining the attention-seeker, by finding him a new toy or workbook which requires your full attention whenever he does it, is obviously counterproductive. Some people buy the expensive preschool courses that are available, and they usually find that they are very good courses, but they don't solve the problem that the parents thought to solve by buying the course. The mother must find time to pre-read the lessons, prepare resources, administer the lessons, and clean up. Still, in between all that, the little one continues to interrupt and disturb others.

When you look at what such courses are actually teaching, it will soon become obvious that behind all the educational jargon and high-sounding conceptual learning, there is not really anything that you can't do as well in normal everyday life. This is not to say that the courses are no good. On the contrary, they're excellent. This is mainly to say that it is not hard for "ordinary" mothers and fathers to achieve apparently extraordinary things with toddlers whilst barely thinking about it.

What sorts of things must we teach our little ones? Obviously I cannot cover everything here, but I can give some broad categories. First they need to be able to take care of themselves. This includes the major hurdle of toilet training, but also less demanding ongoing achievements like dressing, washing, tidying their rooms. Well at least, these seem less demanding because the consequences of failure are less dramatic, but you already know that quite a deal of consistent effort is needed to form good habits.

Then, two, three, and four year olds have a great sense of what is proper and right and quickly learn where things go and what does not belong. Instead of exercising this quality through endless puzzles and activities, use it by allowing your preschooler to be chief message-runner, searcher for out-of-place possessions, fetcher and put-away-er. As well as doing these tasks when you see things that need doing, get him to be regularly responsible for some jobs in this category, like putting away dry dishes and washing, clearing tables, straightening mats and cushions, and more.

Try giving only subtle hints and rewarding with extra big smiles and cuddles when he does it without any reminders. This is a big achievement for such a little person and a key to becoming a self-starter in academic learning later. Even with reminders, a wealth of learning happens every time you guide your child through everyday tasks. Vocabulary is extended, and relationships between objects are perceived. Categories are identified, one-to-one correspondence is established, and actions and consequences become clear. Observation skills are sharpened. Steps to completion of a task are placed in sequence.

With child-sized tools preschoolers can be extremely helpful with all cleaning jobs. Aim to increase his concentration span and also attention to detail, by gently pointing out of spots that have slipped his notice. Brush and shovel, dustbuster, and cleaning cloth are already conveniently sized and just asking for small hands to use them. A broom with a four-foot handle instead of the usual six foot one can provide further training. Vacuum cleaners with only one half of the tube (therefore half height) are great too. Get him to clean one square thoroughly before allowing him to go wherever his fancy carries him. When cleaning walls or cars or windows, again give him a portion to clean thoroughly before just playing with the water, and also give him enough guidance to prevent his being a nuisance.

From a young age, toddlers can be real blessing on washday by helping sort the wash and peg out all the little things. They are especially delighted if given a child-sized replica of mum's big hoist, but are just as helpful with a clothes airer to peg socks, hankies, underwear, washers and bibs. Let him do it beside you as you hang the larger items and chat amiably between instructions as to the correct way to hang items. They feel so grown-up and appreciated with this attention, and will delight in getting it right - another struggle avoided. You will especially appreciate the blessing this is to the family if it starts to rain. Instead of having to unpeg all the fiddly bits, you simply lift in the whole airer and give your attention to the large items.

A preschooler given meaningful tasks such as these will be learning as much as (if not more than) kindergarten attendees or those whose parents have purchased expensive preschool curricula. All the necessary pre-academic skills of concentration span, vocabulary, sequencing skills, understanding of relationships and consequences, attention to detail, perseverance till correctness is achieved, formation of good personal lifelong habits, achievement of skill with various common tools, sense of order, tidiness, and correctness, self-starting in a growing number of areas, obedience to multiple instructions, understanding and using categories, one-to-one correspondence, observation skills, prediction of problems and ability to avoid them - all of these wonderfully 'highfalutin' educational concepts are readily achieved almost without special effort by mothers lovingly guiding their children through normal life.

As an added benefit, the child receiving such attention appears to have some inner need finally satisfied, and he does not continue to disturb others at their tasks. Often he will happily play or potter creatively. If he does hover around others at their work, he will be more ready to be a help and at the very least, will have gained enough skills to keep from being a hindrance. Then, time spent in doing any worksheets or creative "kindergarten" activity will be time well spent and a pleasure to all of you. You need not avoid buying any preschool educational items, but please avoid falling into the error of thinking the curriculum will teach the skills. Only people can teach the necessaries to little ones.

Ideas for Busy Mums

We did not write this collection, but were given it by friends. If anyone knows the source, we would love to thank the authors, who seem to have the same themes we do!

These ideas have helped lots of busy mums! You may find some to be exactly what you need, while others may seem unnecessary to you right now. Pick a few that speak to your situation, talk then over with your husband, and ask God for wisdom in how to apply them. The ideas are not listed in any ranked order.

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His power and the wonders He has done
Ps 78:4
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